From Here to Eternity [1953]

Here's a model for adapting a novel into a movie. The bestseller by James Jones, a frank and hard-hitting look at military life, could not possibly be made into a film in 1953 without considerably altering its length and bold subject matter. Yet screenwriter Daniel Taradash and director Fred Zinnemann (both of whom won Oscars for their work) pared it down and cleaned it up, without losing the essential texture of Jones's tapestry. The setting is an army base in Hawaii in 1941. Montgomery Clift, in a superb performance, plays a bugler who refuses to fight for the company boxing team; he has reasons for giving up the sport. His refusal results in harsh treatment from the company commander, whose bored wife (Deborah Kerr) is having an affair with the tough-but-fair sergeant (Burt Lancaster). You remember--the scene with the two of them embracing on the beach, as the surf crashes in. The supporting players are as good as the leads: Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed won Oscars (and Sinatra revitalized his entire career), and Ernest Borgnine entered the gallery of all-time movie villains, as the stockade sergeant who makes Sinatra miserable. Zinnemann's work is efficient but also evocative, capturing the time and place beautifully, the tropical breezes as well as the lazy prewar indulgence. This one is deservedly a classic. --Robert Horton

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